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Kids and pets are a natural combo—once kids know the proper way to treat them.
Teaching young children how to behave around dogs and cats creates a happier, healthier environment for the whole family and kids learn etiquette basics that apply to all interactions, human as well as animal.
Prep Before Arrival: Before you bring a pet home is the time to set boundaries and teach pet etiquette, starting with basics like never putting your face up close to a pet’s and letting pets initiate interaction. A stuffed animal can act as a stand-in to practice the right way to hold and pet animals—both cats and dogs prefer soft strokes and gentle scratching behind ears, around the neck and under the chin.
Making Contact: Let your pet make the first move when being introduced to the family and sniff and check you out. Once they settle in, pets should not be forced to interact when they don’t want to. How to tell? They’ll respond positively to invitations to engage, like being offered a toy or a treat. And they’ll make a fast exit when they’re not interested.
Supervision Required: Never leave a pet alone with a child under seven. The most well-behaved and loving dog or cat can suddenly become too rough for a small child and kids can provoke pets unintentionally. Keep a watchful eye on both.
A Kid-Free Zone: Even the most energetic dog or cat needs time to chill out.
Create a play-free, pester-free spot where pets can feel safe, like a dog crate, pet bed or corner of a room just for them.
Build Empathy: Behaviors that people don’t like, pets don’t like either: who wants to be teased, squeezed, jumped on while sleeping, poked while eating or having your ears pulled? Before your cat or dog’s patience wears out, explain to your kids why they should treat pets—and people—the way they themselves want to be treated.
Positive Reinforcement: It works for kids and pets alike. Give both heaps of praise whenever they demonstrate proper behavior. And let kids be the ones to reward pets with treats for good conduct.
Get Kids Involved: Include your child in the care of the family pet. Have them assist with grooming, walking, feeding, and training, even in the smallest of ways, like placing their food bowl on the floor. It’s more than an opportunity to learn responsibility. It’s a chance to strengthen the emotional bond between kids and their pets.
Time for a Time Out: Excited pets and boisterous kids don’t make a great combination. Squealing children can encourage dogs to bark and jump, send cats for cover and make animals anxious and defensive. Overactive pets can incite children to become rambunctious. Give the pet, the child or both a time out before things get too lively: separate them until they’re ready for calmer interaction.
Other People’s Pets: Even if you don’t own canine or feline companions, kids should know how to act when encountering pets outside their home. Like always, always asking the owner if they can pet their cat or dog before approaching and avoiding sudden movements like running or lunging. And kids should let the animal initiate interaction before offering a gently outstretched hand to be sniffed.
Teaching by Example: Children will pick up on and emulate your behavior, so demonstrating patience and expressing love and kindness to furry family companions will rub off positively on your kids.
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